Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Balanchine's Birthday: Books About Ballet

George Balanchine founded the New York City Ballet, the School of American Ballet and changed the face of the art form as we know it. His influence on ballet is enormous-- no one has had a bigger influence on dance. If he were still alive, today he'd be turning 109.


To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel by Siena Cherson Siegel and Marc Siegel. Cherson Siegal's autobiography paints her journey from a childhood in Puerto Rico to her time at the School of American Ballet. I like this one because Siegel isn't able to make a career of ballet, but doesn't let that stop her from succeeding. In addition to taking place at Balanchine's school, it covers the feeling in the wings on the day he died.

Bunheads by Sophie Flack. Flack danced with the New York City Ballet for almost a decade and it shows in her descriptions of the backstage world of a major ballet company. Hannah's world is filled with rehearsals, auditions, performances, and visits to sports doctors and massage therapists to keep her body in peak shape. Then, she meets Jacob. Trying to find time for a date even once a month is near impossible. Hannah's entire world is ballet. Ballet dancers already have a very short career-- is she really willing to risk the little time she has for some boy?

On Pointe by Lorie Ann Grover. Clare lives with her grandparents while studying her at her prestigious ballet school. It won't count for anything though, if she doesn't get one of the few spots at the City Ballet Company. Told in verse, Grover relies on her dancer past to paint Clare's growing anxiety as the auditions near and her reaction to the results.

A Company of Swans by Eva Ibbotson. There is nothing more delightful than an Eva Ibbotson romance. Harriet's only outlet is dance, but when she gets the chance to go join a dance company on tour, her father puts an end to all dancing. So, she runs away with the company and end up traveling through pre-WWI South America, enjoying ballet and running from her father and the man he's picked for her. This is a bit more mature than some of her other romances, making it more appropriate for older readers.


Rose Sees Red by Cecil Castellucci. At the height of the Cold War, two teens--American ballet dancer Rose and Soviet diplomat-daughter Yrena spend an entire night out and about, enjoying New York City. Rose's entire world is dance-- she doesn't have friends or outside interests. Yrena is about to return to the USSR, hoping to taste one night of a typical American teenager before she does. The night will change both of them.

Brushing Mom's Hair by Andrea Cheng and Nicole Wong. When her mother is diagnosed with breast cancer, Ann throws herself into her ballet and art classes as her family tries to find a way to cope with the illness. At under 60 pages, this illustrated, free-verse novel still packs an emotional punch as Ann tries to find herself on the new landscape of chemotherapy and double-mastectomies.

The Cranes Dance by Meg Howrey. The Crane sisters both dance with the same New York ballet company. Gwen is the younger sister, but she is quickly becoming more successful than Kate. Their relationship is complicated as they both support and compete against each other. It's further complicated when Gwen suffers a mental breakdown and leaves, and Kate tries to hang on to her own sanity through the guilt. Published for adults, this is one that teens will enjoy.

A Dance of Sisters by Tracey Porter. Delia's family is complicated. Her mother is dead, her father is distant, and her sister is rebelling and has started to get into witch-craft. The only place Delia is sure of herself is in ballet, but as puberty hits and her body changes, that sureness slips away, too.


Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin. Growing up on Communist China, Li grew up in abject poverty. During the Cultural Revolution, he was chosen to join Madame Mao's ballet corps, performing only the approved stories and dances. After Mao's death and the fall of the Gang of Four, he came to the US in on tour and saw the cold truth about China and what true freedom was, causing him to defect two years later. Published for adults, there is also a Young Readers' Edition.

A Girl Named Faithful Plum: The True Story of a Dancer from China and How She Achieved Her Dream by Richard Bernstein. Like Li Cunxin, Lei Zhongmei grew up in a poor, northern village and studied at the Beijing Dance Academy. But Zhongmei joined the academy after Mao's death. Her village sacrificed everything just to get her to the auditions. Once there, students and teachers treat her with cruel prejudice for being a bumpkin with no connections. To prove to herself and her doubting family that it was worth it, she has to find a way to succeed. Unlike Mao's Last Dancer, this focuses more on ballet than politics, but it does offer a rare glimpse into post-Mao, pre-Tiananmen Chinese life and society.

Audition by Stasia Ward Kehoe. In this verse novel, Sara's excited to get a scholarship to study with a professional ballet company, but the reality is different. She has to move and start at a new school. Used to being the best dancer, she finds herself technically less profient than her classmates, many of whom have been studying with the company for years. Lost and lonely, she finds romance in the arms of an older and unsuitable boy.

Dancing in Red Shoes Will Kill You by Dorian Cirrone. Kayla has a problem. 2 problems, and they're right on her chest. Kayle is a talented ballet dancer at a performing arts high school, but she doesn't have a ballet dancer's body (blame Balanchine.) When her large breasts keep her from getting the lead in Cinderella, she's advised to look into breast-reduction surgery. Soon, the entire school is debating Kayla's breasts, as she tries to decide what to do.

There is more ballet coming as there are way too many books to fit onto one list. What are your favorites? Any good ones starting male dancers?

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